Washington D.C.

“Peace isn’t ‘Kumbaya’ or a dove and a rainbow,” as Jody Williams illustrates so clearly in her new book on life as “a grassroots activist to the core.”

It’s hard to believe that Jody has not published her auto-biography until now, 15 years after receiving the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. Yet it’s not surprising given the intense pace at which she continues to advocate for peace and justice, both in the US and around the world. It can be hard for activists to find time to reflect and write about their own lives when there is so much to do, but recording how we work is just as necessary as doing it. (more…)

dsc_0033There was a march up Connecticut Avenue in Washington DC today by the campaign to free Tibet. You couldn’t miss their brightly coloured flags and clothing. The protesters headed up to the Chinese embassy where they held a rally in front of assorted police. No one came out from the embassy to greet them. March 10th marks the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan Uprising of 1959, when more than tens of thousands of Tibetans were killed by Chinese troops and the Dalai Lama fled over the mountains to India. It also marks one year since violent protests swept across Tibet.

Today the Dalai Lama issued a strong statement charging China with creating “hell on earth” in Tibet, describing the “untold suffering and destruction” that Tibet has borne oveer the past 50 years. This received media coverage, but competition is fierce. Afterall this week also marks the 50th birthday of the Barbie doll. A couple of days ago a Tibetan Barbie doll was even launched by Chinese entrepreneurs.

Here I am in a New York hotel room… I have left my job, my home, my friends for a long journey back to New Zealand via NYC. How come? I got a new job. Here’s a couple of email postings from the past couple of days starting with the ‘eulogy’ by my boss…

From: “Steve Goose”
Sent: Thursday, June 22, 2006 5:38 AM
To: ab@list.icbl.org>, Subject: [ab] Mary W. to NZ

Please forgive duplicate postings.

As most of you know, tomorrow is Mary Wareham’s last day at Human Rights Watch. After eight years years in Washington at HRW running the landmines show, and several years before that working on the ICBL and coordinating the US Campaign to Ban Landmines while at the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, she will be returning to New Zealand to become the advocacy director for Oxfam New Zealand. The loss to the landmine movement is incalculable, but Mary no doubt will be busy making the world a better place in many other spectacular ways.

It is literally impossible to overstate Mary’s contributions to the global effort to ban antipersonnel mines. Even before coming to HRW, she was an indispensable part of the campaign that resulted in the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty–it exists in no small measure because of her work–and certainly a huge chunk of the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the ICBL in 1997 belongs to Mary. At HRW, she created the unprecedented Landmine Monitor initiative from scratch, one of the more notable NGO achievements in any field in recent years. As “global coordinator” of the LM, she made it work, building a network of 122 monitors in 95 countries, coordinating, organizing, cajoling, researching, writing, editing, fundraising, reporting, and on and on, while also doing the press work and advocacy that maximize LM’s impact. (Did I mention in her “spare time” she made an award winning documentary on the landmine issue?) Last but not least, she made me look good on more occasions than I can count; I have no doubt that she increased the effectiveness of my work and HRW’s work on mines many times over. I will miss her terribly, as will all of us in the mine ban movement, but I look forward to seeing what she comes up with next! Please wish her well in her new endeavors.

Steve Goose
Executive Director, Arms Division

And this is what I had to say…

Mary Wareham wrote:

This is my last day in the office so I’ll try and be brief and please, no more tributes. I’m off this HRW email in an hour or so and won’t be able to read them! But thanks for all your kind words. I feel like I’m retiring after 40 years!!! Instead of looking back, I’d like to say a few words about what I’ll be doing as Advocacy Director at Oxfam New Zealand…

I start this job on Monday, not in NZ, but in New York where I will attend the Small Arms Review Conference as a member of the NZ official delegation since some governments are still trying to lock out the NGOs. As many of you know, Oxfam has been engaged in the “Control Arms” campaign for a while now and the outcome of this conference will help determine the future of this engagement.

By 10 July, I should be back in New Zealand working out of the capital Wellington where I grew up. Oxfam NZ carries out relief and development in the Pacific (mainly Melanesia) and Southeast Asia (esp. Indonesia). The group also engages in advocacy on fair trade, debt relief, increasing aid levels, ensuring access to education and clean drinking water, and other pressing concerns. I have some things I’d like to see them do more on, such as universalization of the Mine Ban Treaty in the region, endorsing the Cluster Munition Coalition, advocating for disability rights and the forthcoming Convention, and pressing on human rights concerns esp. immigrant/refugee rights.

Here’s my new email: mary@oxfam.org.nz I can’t check it until 10 July though! So please use the film address: mary@nspfilms.org

So much to say, so many people to thank, but so much to clear/clean up and so little time so … I’m outta here! Lots of love & g’bye!

Mary Wareham
Senior Advocate, Arms Division (until 23 June)

In case you’re wondering, I have finished the Norway sabbatical and back in DC preparing to screen Disarm at the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, MD this Wednesday, 31 May 2006…

BlackI leave for three months sabbatical in Oslo, Norway, this afternoon. Originally I was scheduled to go last Wednesday, but delayed the departure after Brian Liu’s father died Monday in a fire at the family home. There was so much to do to prepare for the funeral on Friday, retrieve precious items from the smoke-damaged house, and deal with insurance. Plus help Mrs. Liu, who is now staying with Brian.

The delayed departure means I will start the sabbatical on Wednesday, 1 February. More on this later. If you’d like to send a message to Brian and his mother, please email them at: toolboxdc@aol.com

An obit. Brian prepared for the local newspaper, the Laurel Leader follows…

“Sandy” Yan Ming Liu
“Sandy” Yan Ming Liu, 69, a resident of the same West Laurel home since 1968, died Jan. 23, 2006 of a fire in his garage, just after being diagnosed with terminal lung and brain cancer only 2 months earlier.

Sandy Liu was born Sept 1, 1937 in Hong Kong, graduated from Pui Ching High School on Sept 1, 1956, and immigrated to the United States on full scholarships to Pepperdine University and the University of California at Berkley. He married in Washington D.C. on May 26, 1968 and was naturalized on April 13, 1973. Following receipt of a graduate degree in Physics from the University of Maryland, he worked as an engineer for California Institute of Technology Jet Propulsion Labs, Goddard Space Flight Center (mid to late 60’s), The National Bureau of Standards (1969-1980), and most recently retired in July 2002 from 22 years of service as an Emergency Response Supervisory Engineer (w/ an expertise in the field of Photo Lithography) at Westinghouse Defense Center/Northrop Grumman (1980-2002).

Known for his quiet kindness, loyal friendships, and generosity, he spent the last 5-10 years traveling the world with his wife, and playing tennis, biking and swimming in various Laurel parks.

Sandy Liu is survived by his wife of 37 years, Lana, a travel agency owner, and his son Brian, a creative director/filmaker, who are both currently in Washington D.C.

A heavily attended memorial Mass was celebrated on the beautiful Friday afternoon of Jan. 27, 2006 at St. Mary of the Mills Catholic Church in Laurel, with the Rev. Msgr. Michael Wilson officiating. Burial followed at Parklawn Memorial Park cemetery in Rockville.

Arrangements were by Donaldson Funeral Home in Laurel. Memorial donations may be made to the George Washington University Cancer Center Fund (contact Barbara Apseloff (202)741-2218, email bapseloff@mfa.gwu.edu)

Returning from Vacation … in Circles & Zigzags (Oct. 2002)

When I last traveled three months ago, instead of flying in a straight line the airplane back from Europe zig-zagged all the way down the East Coast of the United States. Now, I asked the flight attendant, why are we circling instead? The on-screen map was showing the plane turning in loops. It’s to slow down as Washington Dulles airport isn’t ready for us yet due to heavy traffic.

“I feel sick,” I complained to anyone who listened. I’m normally never such a wimp, but after 10 ½ hours in the air I’d had enough. Everyone else was complaining too, Italian style. It’s was a rude welcome back “home.”

When I left on 10 September, the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had ordered the arming of surface-to-air missiles launchers placed around DC in preparation for any unforeseen events during the 9-11 anniversary. In Europe I visited a number of castles with my family during our vacation in Spain, France and Italy: big, small, restored, ruined, on hill tops, along rivers…all equipped with ramparts, towers, gates & all manner of innovation to deter intruders and attackers. And yet still they fell. Will there be a day when tourists gawk at the ruins that were once DC?

How will the fall of the American Empire be told? On the plane, I read an article on neocolonialism by the US: Invade w. all the latest weapons & firepower, rebuild using American products & services, and depart leaving the country economically, politically, socially dependent on the “big guy.” I’m more familiar with the British Empire, coming from one of the realm’s more successful products of colonial rule. Late last century the UK also cobbled together Iraq, from three distinct sections of the Ottoman Empire: Kurdish, Sunni and Shi’ite. Will Iraq still be intact after a U.S. intervention?

The magazine I’m reading is packed with stories on Iraq: Saddam’s eccentricities, brutalities and atrocities. Just as Afghanistan formed the main media curriculum in late 2001, now Iraq is topic of the day. Coming after a month’s absence from my DC diet of the New York Times and Washington Post, it’s all a bit much to take.

My stomach is also churning from a steady diet of rich, indulgent “slow” foods, like truffles, wild boar, forest mushrooms, and salami made from every animal and animal part imaginable. And I didn’t even touch the alcohol. I’ll remember the bottle labels better having seen them in their local contexts: Corbieres, Chianti, Montepulciano, Brunello, Orvieto…

I wonder about my life in DC. How much has my kitten grown? (A lot it turns out.) Are my plants still alive? (Barely.) Have the leaves in my park changed colour yet? (Not a chance!) What’s the deal with the suburban sniper?

I contemplate my crazy travel schedule for the coming six months and my stomach growls as the plane turns, and turns again like a cat chasing its tail or Bush pursuing Bin Laden. Or is he now steadily zig-zagging toward Iraq?

What Happened Here…?

Yesterday was pretty surreal – it all started for me as I reached the office and started to answer my email. When I heard about the second plane, I turned on the TV and within minutes all the staff was watching. I tried to get back to work but then heard on my radio that the Pentagon had been hit. I looked out my window and sure enough, smoke was rising in what was a crystal clear sky. They then started to evacuate downtown and from where we are on one of the city’s main boulevards we could see a steady stream of office workers walking north away from the city as well as backed-up traffic. No one looked like they were panicking though. I began to feel very glad that HRW took the decision to move to Dupont Circle from its previous location just one block from the White House. Rumours started circulating that a low-flying plane was headed for the White House but obviously this did not turn out to be true. By about 11:30am, nearly all of the planes were accounted for and it seemed that no more crashes would happen.

At midday I had to take a very painful decision to cancel events we had planned here in DC to release the global report we have been working so hard on. We has some great briefings for media and diplomats lined up for the Organization of American States where NGOs are not normally welcomed but they are located about two blocks from the White House. So given the access problems and the fact that we would get nil media attention we canceled. We went ahead with the global release of the report, which if you are interested you can see online at http://www.icbl.org/lm/2001

When I left the office at 1pm, the traffic on Connecticut Avenue had all but disappeared and the shops and restaurants were closing. I headed for my friend Simone’s house and from there did what everyone else in the world did yesterday – watched TV. That was kind of numbing after 10 hours. It was interesting to see how the U.S. media took some care not to show the jumpers and the dead until much later in the evening. The famous news anchors spent the entire day on TV and by the evening were starting to sound incoherent. This morning the newspapers are full of stories and photos of the carnage, as I expect they are around the rest of the world.

What is concerning me now is exactly what the government here will do to pursue those who carried out these terrible crimes against humanity. In his statement Bush said the US will, “make no distinction between the terrorists and those who harbor them.” No crime should be retaliated if it means killing more innocent people. I fear for my colleagues in places like Afghanistan, Sudan and Yemen who have sent been sending us messages of support. In the US, if you kill, then you will be killed through their despicable use of death penalty. This is the method I fear they will use to retaliate for yesterday’s crimes, but on a far larger scale. I fear they will destroy the work I have engaged in over the past five years both in the landmines campaign and at Human Rights Watch to ensure that the laws of war are abided by and given due respect. The principles of distinction between soldier and civilian, of proportionality with respect to the use of force, the prohibitions of unnecessary suffering and respect for basic human rights. I have seen the US strive to adhere to these rules, most recently in the Kosovo conflict, which was executed with surgical accuracy (but still with civilian casualties). Yesterday’s events have brought everything down to such a level, that I find myself terribly concerned about how the US will respond.

The streets in DC are now quiet apart from intermittent sirens while the skies are clear with the exception of some helicopters and some fighter jet flying thousands of miles above. They should lift the state of emergency by the weekend. Until then everyone is told to remain at home, if they are not at work or school. I should know later today whether the meeting I was due to fly down to on Friday in Nicaragua is going ahead. I’m booked on American, the airline of the Americas, but expect will be one of the safest to fly following these events.

I always thought something like this could happen here and have been working for a long time now to wake up this country. They should be reaching out and seeking help from this huge outpouring of sympathy by the international community. But this is the Bush administration and I’m more than skeptical as to what their next step will be. At least I know I can always come home to New Zealand, where sanity prevails and the grass is green! Missing you madly…

Love Mary